::Literate Blather::
Thursday, March 20, 2008
5 Questions About: "Beyond Belief"

Our Interview with Documentary Filmmaker
Beth Murphy

(DaRK PaRTY isn’t afraid to admit that we shed quite a few tears while watching the 9/11 documentary “Beyond Belief” (but in a he-man kind of way). You can read our review of the film here. The story is about two 9/11 widows who decide to break out of their grief and reach out to war widows in Afghanistan. It’s a heart breaking film made by Beth Murphy, a Boston area filmmaker. The movie is being screen at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. For tickets and times you can click here. Beth was kind enough to answer our questions about the film.)

DaRK PaRTY: When did you first meet Susan Retik and Patti Quigley and what about them made you want to create "Beyond Belief"?

Beth: I learned about Susan and Patti’s mission to help Afghan war widows through my role on the board of the International Institute of Boston, an organization that helps immigrants and refugees. Immediately, I knew I wanted to tell their story. To me, it was a story that needed to be told. After three years of code red and orange terror alerts coming out of Washington and a War on Terror that was expanding unchecked, they inspired me with their belief that ordinary citizens could play in role in fighting global terror. There’s something very powerful about this idea of citizen diplomacy -- that individuals can act on the world stage and forge relationships that help bridge the cultural divide. Put very simply -- they inspired me, and I thought they might be able to inspire others.

DP: You chose not to use news footage from Twin Towers and instead used Susan and Patti's stories to convey their loss. Can you talk about that decision?

Beth: I knew I personally didn’t want to see this footage again, and I suspected others felt the same. And from a filmmaking perspective, I felt it would detract from -- rather than add to -- the story telling I was trying to achieve. To be honest, it would have been very easy to show footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center Towers. Why not? That’s what happened. But it would have sensationalized the story. I wanted to treat September 11th with respect - to convey the horror of what happened that day without exploiting it.

DP: "Beyond Belief" manages to be heart-wrenching, but without being overly sentimental. How did you balance their grief with their mission and strength?

Beth: Susan and Patti deserve all the credit for that. This is their story told in their own words. And I tried to stay true to that. Of course, they grieve. But they are focused on life after 9/11. They didn’t want to be public figures - but September 11th forced them into that role, and they wanted to use the new voice they’d been given for good.

DP: The movie displays a striking contrast of cultures. What struck you as the biggest differences between Susan and Patti and the Afghan war widows?

Beth: The economic divide is about as vast as you can possibly imagine. Susan and Patti are upper middle class women living in the affluent suburbs of the world’s richest superpower. The Afghan widows are the most desperate and destitute members of an already impoverished nation.

After their tragedies, Susan and Patti received incredible support from family, friends, and, in fact, an entire nation. Cards, presents, dinners arrived daily – sometimes overwhelming them and their families. Despite their losses, life continued in much the same way it had before the deaths of their husbands: Their children continued classes at the same schools. They lived in the same houses. They had no financial hardships to consider.

The opposite is true for an Afghan woman who loses a husband. She is forced to experience the unraveling of her entire life. There is no life insurance in Afghanistan. And because there are no job opportunities for widows in Afghanistan, children are often forced out onto the streets to beg for food--or worse… sell themselves into prostitution. Widows – more than other women in Afghanistan – are forced to wear the grotesque burqa. Their in-laws also insist that if a woman remarries she leaves the children behind.

As Susan says in the film, “I just could not imagine living in Afghanistan and having had the same thing happen to me. Losing my husband and having no job, not being able to read or write, not being able to support my children.” That Susan and Patti recognized this difference and wanted to help alleviate some of that suffering is what separates them from most upper middle class suburbanites.

DP: Patti and Susan were amazed and awed at the poverty of Afghanistan. What was your own impression of Kabul and Afghanistan?

Beth: I was astonished to see so many women still covered head-to-toe in the all-encompassing burqa. With just a little piece of mesh to see out of, women in Afghanistan are nearly erased from society. If you remember, the West was quite focused on the repression of women during the Taliban. But the Northern Alliance that we allied ourselves with to oust the Taliban did not fight on account of women’s rights. And the truth is there have been minimal advances for women since the fall of the Taliban. And it’s 7 years later!

Today, with the Taliban once again gaining strength, rights are once again being eroded. One of the most horrific signs of this is the fact that self-immolation cases are rising dramatically. To save themselves from chronic abuse, poverty, forced marriages and a life without education or human rights, women are setting themselves on fire, believing that burning to death is a better alternative to their current existence. In Herat city alone, there were 160 cases of self-immolation last year. It’s astonishing to think that we ever congratulated ourselves for “freeing” Afghanistan’s women. While the Afghan government’s official policy is to allow women to study and work (which was prohibited under the Taliban), the reality is that repression is still widespread.

Read about why we love "It's a Wonderful Life"

Read our review of "Beyond Belief"

Read our review of "3:10 to Yuma"

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